The role of language in anti-immigrant prejudice: What can we learn from immigrants' historical experiences?

Kai Wei, Daniel Jacobson López, Shiyou Wu

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    12 Scopus citations


    Prejudice remains an unpleasant experience in immigrants' everyday lives, especially for those of stigmatized groups. In the recurring struggle of various immigrant groups, historical and contemporary events reveal the important role of language in the creation, transmission, and perpetuation of anti-immigrant prejudice. Living in an anti-immigrant climate, immigrants are frequently exposed to stigmatizing language in both political and social discourse. This may be a more significant and frequent experience for immigrants since the beginning of the 2016 United States presidential election. Although it has long been understood that language is inextricably linked with prejudice, the investigation of the role of language in creating, transmitting, and perpetuating anti-immigrant prejudice remains undeveloped in social work research. This paper provides a theoretical explanation of anti-immigrant sentiment by discussing how stigmatization has allowed for immigrants to be subjected to various forms of prejudice throughout history. Building upon prior theoretical concepts of stigma, this paper argues that being an immigrant is a stigma. This paper reviews historical and contemporary cases of prejudice against immigrants to provide evidence for how stigmatizing language transmits and perpetuates anti-immigrant prejudice in the United States and building upon prior stigma theories, defines one's status of an immigrant to be form of stigma itself. The paper concludes with a call for appreciable attention to the role of language in anti-immigrant prejudice and the need for social workers to advocate for immigrants within higher education and in our communities to reduce such stigma though social work practice, education and research.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Article number93
    JournalSocial Sciences
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - 2019


    • Anti-immigration prejudice
    • Contemporary
    • History
    • Language

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Social Sciences


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